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Become Brilliant at the Basics

By June 22, 2020 No Comments

In December of 1960, the Green Bay Packers played in the NFL Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles: and lost 17-13. Author David Maraniss, in his best-selling book, When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, explains what happened when the team gathered on their first day of training camp in the summer following that loss. The players were anxious to move forward, to see what they could do differently to win in the coming season. But Coach Lombardi had a different approach to the team’s training. He was going to take them back to the very basics of the sport. He started with the most elemental of statements. “Gentlemen,” he said, holding a pigskin in his right hand, “this is a football.” Now, you can’t get much more basic than that. Each player probably had had a football in his hands every day for the past 10 years. They certainly knew it was a football. Still, that’s where Lombardi started. And this fundamental approach paid off when in the 1961 NFL Championship game, the Packers played the New York Giants, and won 37-0.

There are no actions that can guarantee a winning outcome, but there are certain steps that can be taken that will improve the odds – dramatically. Number one on that list is to become brilliant at the basics. My experience as a stage director has taught me that the most successful productions I have worked on all have this one element in common: they begin the process by working on the basics.

In theatre, the most successful actors, the ones who are consistently employed, are always studying the basics of their craft. During those times when they are not on stage, they are revisiting and refining their fundamentals. They are taking dance lessons, voice lessons, movement, and acting lessons. They are attending classes to work on monologues and scenes. They are stretching themselves both physically and mentally. These actors do this because they know that it is in the small details of their craft where they will find the biggest rewards, the rewards that will keep them on top.

One of the great joys found in being brilliant at the basics is that, when needed, you will know how to successfully break those basic rules. The famous composer, conductor Leonard Bernstein once said, “You have to know the rules before you can break them.” A simple statement, but tremendous advice. He is not suggesting that you must follow the rules and march along with everyone else. Quite the opposite. He is telling you that there is a wonderfully creative world outside the traditional boundaries, but first you need to understand the fundamental structures, rules, skills of your business. You need to learn them so intuitively that, after careful thought and reflection, you can effectively bend those basics to your needs, creating something original and extraordinary. Artist Pablo Picasso put it this way, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

The proverbial ‘one-hit wonders’ are those artists who didn’t follow this advice. They didn’t study the basics of their respective art forms and thus didn’t know how to repeat their success or how to break away effectively to create more than just that singular magic. 

Being Brilliant at the Basics:

  • Lays the groundwork for the decisions (wins) to come
  • Allows you to play and create smarter
  • Clarifies your actions and processes
  • Allows you to simplify your decision process
  • Gives you added confidence
  • Gives you a leg up on your competitors

So, always think: Fundamentals first. You can’t move forward without moving back – to the basics.